The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

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I found it incredible (and humbling) to discover that Carson McCullers (who I also thought was male for about the first 1/4 of the book) was only 23-years-old when she wrote this novel – her first. It tells John Singer’s story and is set in a small town, in the deep South. As a deaf-mute, he assembles a motley crew of characters who seek him out, usually at the town’s café, as their confidante. And so he takes on a Messiah-like role. The writing is strong and often subtle, making suggestions about further connections that are never clarified, just sifted through, adding to the richness and tension of it all.

Gwenamon says: Impressive

The Razor’s Edge by W. Somerset Maugham

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Where to begin…. This novel almost bursts with characters and experimentation. Maugham inserts himself in the story, which I particularly enjoyed, especially with how that effect played out for the time period during which he wrote the book (early 1940’s). Maugham is the tackler of philosophical topics and in this book he explores Larry Darrell’s spiritual quest, his fiancee Isabel’s reaction and the repercussions, and her uncle’s (Elliot Templeton’s) life as a social climber. Once I adjusted to the style of writing and its somewhat slower pace (when compared with today’s novels), I was captivated.

Gwenamon says: Maugham is a master

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

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Steinbeck beautifully writes about two drifters, George and simple Lennie, who share an unusual, strong friendship and a dream to one day have their own land. They eventually find work on a ranch, but their time there is threatened by a man’s jealousy and Lennie’s strength.

Gwenamon says: Succinct and moving

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

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As most of you know, this is the ill-fated love story of Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler. It’s also the love story of Scarlett and Ashley Wilkes, and Ashley and Melanie Hamilton. Add to those love triangles the franticness of the American Civil War as well as Reconstruction, and a romantic farewell to “The South” (with the horrors of slavery quite glossed over, which is very telling in doing so), and you have this epic. I picked it up at my parents’ when I visited them without a book. I was surprised that I couldn’t put it down. The book is much darker than the movie. The writing is captivating. No wonder it won the National Book Award as well as the Pulitzer.

Gwenamon says: Excellent

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Finally, a new take on Henry VIII. Mantel tells the tales of Henry’s court all through the eyes of Thomas Cromwell. Specifically, the novel describes his rise to power. The tone and language are captivating and the novel is quite atmospheric, even with the focus on characters. My only complaint is that she uses “He,” meaning Cromwell, a little too superfluously and when “He” is with other men (which is often), it can be a bit confusing. 

Gwenamon says: Very good

Guernica by Dave Boling

I really like fiction that is based in fact so I end up learning as well as getting lost in the story. On that note, Guernica doesn’t disappoint. I found the characters incredibly rich and believable. Their love and strife educated me about the Nazi bombardment of Spain on the cusp of WWII. I loved their stories. I also learned more about the impetus for Picasso’s painting of the same name. However, I didn’t love the disconnection between the characters’ tales. Some characters are dropped for over a hundred pages at a time, making their re-appearance a surprise.

Gwenamon says: Very enjoyable, but somewhat fragmented

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

This is no Middlesex, which is one of my favourite books. But how can you really follow that one up? The Marriage Plot is very good. In typical Eugenides fashion, it has many layers. I think a lot of those layers are suited best to English majors and if you aren’t one, the references may lose you. (I particularly loved descriptions of Semiotics class.) Regardless, the story is entertaining and clever. Of course.

Gwenamon says: You can wait until the paperback comes out

You Shall Know Our Velocity! by Dave Eggers

This is Eggers first novel, following his memoir (A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius). We’re told the very entertaining, unpredictable tale of life-long friends, Will and Hand, who go on a week-long, around-the-world trip to give away money. I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with Eggers. I revere his amazing ability to capture emotion in unique, vivid, and often beautiful ways. He’s so outstanding at it that I usually can forgive his somewhat seemingly self-congratulatory love of clever devices (Hand’s interjection three-quarters of the way through) which make his works a little too self-aware and self-reflexive.

Gwenamon says: Very, very good

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

This is a sweeping, harrowing book about two women: Mirian and Laila. It’s a story about their endurance and, at times, resistance during Afghanistan’s roller-coaster history. The writing is beautiful, poignant, and memorable. I can’t remember the last book (maybe the Kite Runner?) that made me cry at times. I didn’t want this book to end and my only criticism of it is that it takes a while for Part One and Part Two to coincide. One of the extraordinary things about this book is knowing that the atrocities and hardships described are fiction, but so very close to reality.

Gwenamon says: Yes!

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

I found myself disliking this book in the beginning because it was much neater and more tightly structured than any other Murakami before. Then I got to the place in the story which gives the structure meaning, and I breathed a small sigh of relief. More controlled structure aside, 1Q84 has the wonderful smorgasbord of craziness that is classic Murakami: two lovers try to find each other in an alternate world, which one of them is writing about; the other lover is a professional killer; there’s a dowager and a religious cult; the cult leader’s daughter is a perceiver; plus there’s a stake-out and a fascinating TV fee-collector who epitomizes spiritual unrest. And throughout it all, Murakami masterfully manages to weave in theories and philosophies about writing, itself.

Gwenamon says: Fantastic